December 7, 2018 brianradio2016

The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GD is a top-end 15.6-inch laptop with a premium price tag to match. At £2,199 (inc. VAT, or £1,832.50 ex. VAT) for the highest-spec model (reviewed here), you get a Core i9 processor, a discrete GPU and 16GB of RAM. But that’s not what makes this laptop stand out from the crowd: that accolade goes to the ScreenPad, a touchpad that acts as a second full-colour screen. Gimmick or useful tool? Let’s take a look.

It’s worth noting at the outset that this is a hefty piece of kit. The 15.6-inch screen sits in a chassis measuring 365mm wide by 241mm deep by 18.9mm thick. This bulk, combined with 1.88kg of weight, means you won’t be taking this laptop on your travels unless you absolutely have to.

Asus says the chassis is ‘deep dive blue’ in colour. It looks black until it catches the light, when the very deep blue colour that’s used both outside and in becomes apparent, as does the Asus branding on the lid and slanted linear etching surrounding the keyboard and on the wrist rest. Much more noticeable is the gold rim around the upper edges of the base, which might prove too much for some business users.

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The ZenBook UX580GD is a powerful 15.6-inch laptop whose outstanding feature is the ScreenPad — a touchpad that doubles as a secondary screen.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The ScreenPad is the scene-stealer, though. As well as catering for conventional touchpad functions (cursor movement, button presses and gesture controls), it works as a second touchscreen and viewer. The ScreenPad measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal, and has a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels.

When employed as a touchpad, the ScreenPad has colourful wallpaper rather than the more usual mono surface. But the real fun comes when it operates in its two other guises.

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The ScreenPad offers a range of functions, including an app launcher.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet asus-zenbook-pro-ux580gdscreenpad-settings2.jpg

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The ScreenPad’s settings menu includes access to an app store.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

One of these is ScreenPad mode. This presents a horizontal menu along the top of the pad offering a range of features, including a calculator, a calendar, an app launcher and a music player. The ScreenPad has its own control panel so you can set its brightness and wallpaper, and it can accommodate apps. Spotify is promised for download, and there’s an app store accessible from the ScreenPad’s settings menu to add more, such as ScreenPad Office. This lets you control common Microsoft Office functions, avoiding the need to reach for the mouse or remember keyboard shortcuts.

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The ScreenPad also has an Extender mode. Switch this on and the main screen can be swept into the ScreenPad, or sent there via a keyboard combination, so that it’s mirrored. Or you can use the ScreenPad as a mini second display, moving around Windows and apps with taps and sweeps. It’s small, but it does work.

Both these modes, Extender and ScreenPad, are accessed by pressing F6, which also allows you to work in traditional touchpad mode and disable the touchpad completely, toggling through the options with each F6 button press.

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Extender mode lets you use the ScreenPad as a mini second screen — good luck with making menu selections though.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The ScreenPad is not without limitations. In both Extender and ScreenPad modes, cursor and button controls are disabled. The pad itself retains its touch-responsiveness, so you can move around in apps and in the extended Windows screen, but while the former is relatively straightforward because the apps are designed for the screen size, the latter is very fiddly. The tiny display requires real precision and dexterity. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use menus in Extender mode, and while it’s OK for scrolling through web pages, clicking links can be a challenge.

In practical terms, disabling cursor and button controls in these two modes makes working with the main screen fiddly. I resorted to prodding the touchscreen, and while using a mouse is also an option, it seems counter-intuitive to have to set one up just for times when the touchpad is otherwise engaged.

All this noted, the idea behind ScreenPad is intriguing — but I can’t help wondering if it’s something of a solution looking for a problem.

The main 15.6-inch touchscreen sits in a relatively narrow bezel. My top-end review sample had a 3,840-by 2,160-pixel panel that, at 100 percent, was extremely bright. Viewing angles are very good, and video streamed beautifully. However, the screen is very reflective, which makes working in some conditions — such as outdoors, in rooms with side-windows and on trains — challenging at times.

Two speaker grilles sit on the underside of the chassis, and while they output good-quality audio, desktops and clothing can muffle and distort the sound. I’d much prefer the speakers to be top mounted.

The high screen resolution, plus the need to keep the powerful components and the ScreenPad going, have a definite effect on battery life. Asus says the ZenBook 15 UX580GD’s 71Wh 8-cell lithium-polymer will keep it going for up to 9.5 hours, but my experience suggests that’s optimistic. In my first battery test I left the screen brightness at its default 40 percent setting for battery-based work. I was on wi-fi the whole time, and did some writing into a web app and a fair bit of streaming and web browsing. The battery depleted to 25 percent in three hours.

In a second test with brightness at 25 percent (which was perfectly usable) and using the same work pattern, the battery depleted to 53 percent in three hours. Don’t expect all-day battery life from this laptop unless screen brightness is turned right down and workloads are light.

The keyboard is comfortable to use. With a nice bounce-back and plenty of space between keys, there was nothing to stop me touch typing at full speed.

My top-end review sample ran on an Intel Core i9-8950HK processor with 16GB of RAM and discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics. It’s a combination that makes for a powerhouse of a laptop. If your bedget doesn’t stretch to £2,199 (inc. VAT), you can opt for a Core i7 with the same discrete graphics, and either 8GB (£1,699) or 16GB (£1,899) of RAM. All three of these models have a 512GB SSD and a UHD touchscreen, and run Windows 10 Home. I did notice quite a bit of noise from the fan at times, so take note if you work in a library-quiet office.

There are two USB 3 ports on the right side, along with a MicroSD card slot and a 3.5mm headset jack. The left side has an HDMI port and two USB Type-C connectors with Thunderbolt. If you need wired Ethernet, will have to use the provided dongle, which takes up one of the USB-3 ports.

The charge connector is a small round-pin unit, which means that both USB-C ports are free when you’re charging the laptop. That’s probably a good thing given that you’re likely to need to recharge fairly regularly. The charging brick itself is one of the chunkiest I’ve seen in a while — another reason this laptop is unlikely to be the mobile professional’s first choice.

Security is catered for by a fingerprint scanner on the wrist rest and a webcam with Windows Hello support.

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Conclusions

The Asus ZenBook Pro UX580GD is big and heavy, as is its AC adapter, and battery life isn’t great. All of which means that this 15.6-inch laptop will spend most of its time deskbound. On the plus side, the screen is superb, and there’s plenty of CPU and GPU power on offer.

The oddity here is the ScreenPad. With its screen mirroring and independent functions it could be a winner, but Asus needs to think about how it handles touchpad functions when the ScreenPad is presenting a mini version of the main screen or its own functions, and also to put more effort into finding compelling uses for it.

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December 7, 2018 brianradio2016

“Gramdma, don’t run out and buy an iPad. Fine when I was six but now I’m 10. My dreams are big so I need a real computer…”

Microsoft’s Surface Go 2018 Holiday ad doesn’t pull its punches. And in many ways it’s right. The iPad is a kid’s toy.

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The iPad is one of those devices that I’ve tried to love. I really have. I’ve owned quite a few in my time, and had the opportunity to test most of the iPads that Apple has released.

After I’d grown tired of trying to make the iPad fit my workflow (no amount of throwing external keyboards or apps at it could make it work for me, and it ended up being used as a mouse mat until it was rescued by a family member), I then gave the iPad Pro a try.

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While the iPad Pro did overcome some of the issues that I felt kept the iPad back, I still couldn’t make it work anywhere near as effectively as using a laptop. I was fighting an uphill battle, and trying to make do with the iPad Pro felt like I was wasting time and effort. Sure, it was better than using my iPhone, but I was nowhere near as efficient as when I was using a laptop.

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The problem with the iPad and iPad Pro wasn’t so much the size — the display on the bigger iPad Pro is more than adequate for most of what I do. The problem was the operating system.

iOS is great on a smartphone, but it doesn’t scale up well to a device that wants to be a laptop replacement. There are just too many limitations, relating both to how iOS has been designed to work, and to the software that’s available for it.

Now you might be thinking that it’s not an iPad issue that I have, but that tablets don’t fit in with my workflow.

I hate to tell you this, but this is wrong. How do I know this? Because I have a number of Windows-powered tablets — including a Surface Go — and I don’t find the same limitations when using these devices.

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Compared to the versatility that the Surface Go offers, the iPad, even the iPad Pro, does indeed feel like a tablet made for a six year old. And remember, the Surface Go is the budget model. To make the comparison a fair one, we should the comparing the iPad Pro to the Surface Pro.

And the Surface Pro blows away the iPad Pro.

The problem is clear — it’s Apple’s insistence on running iOS on the iPad Pro. If the iPad Pro ran macOS — and I have no doubt that the hardware is powerful enough to do just that — then it would be pretty much the perfect device.

Who knows, maybe Apple has a macOS-powered iPad in the works for 2019. I’m not holding my breath for one though.

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December 7, 2018 brianradio2016

Microsoft has pulled the November 1803 update KB4467682 altogether, after blocking it for Surface Book 2 devices earlier this week.

The company only yesterday blocked the update specifically for Surface Book 2 devices after multiple users reported over the weekend that it was triggering Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) events. The update was targeted at Windows 10 version 1803.

The issue appears to only affect Surface Book 2 devices, but Microsoft has now updated the support page to inform users that it has removed the update from Windows Update and Windows Catalog.

“As a precaution, we have removed this optional update from Windows Update and Window Catalog to protect customers. Fixes and improvements will be available in the December 2018 security update release and will include a resolution for this issue,” the page reads.

It still lists the error message, ‘System thread exception not handled’, as the main symptom but it’s removed the reference to Surface Book 2.

The update has also been causing a different problem. As noted by Borncity, it broke custom Start Menu, a feature for tweaking the Start Menu on Windows 10 devices in the enterprise. Removing the update resolves the issue.

The bugs could have been caught if Microsoft had a public-testing process in place for versions other than the latest 1809.

Some IT pros argue that Microsoft should be testing these cumulative updates for versions of Windows 10 that are officially supported.

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December 7, 2018 brianradio2016

top picks

The 10 best smartphones of 2018

The 10 best smartphones of 2018

All significant smartphone launches have now passed and as we approach the end of the year, the ten best shake out after more extended usage of each.

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The term best is subjective, but after testing out a number of smartphones, wearables, tablets, and other mobile gear over the past year, I have developed some informed opinions on the tech we use daily. Some devices are clearly the best for everyone, while others are champions in their particular ecosystem or targeted market.

My most popular ZDNet post of the year was the 10 best smartphones of 2018 list that I update regularly as new phones are released. The phones released in 2018 were so good that it made limiting the post to 10 phones very difficult. Honestly, any of the top five could easily be argued for the No. 1 slot.

Best of 2018

I have a few titles I would like to award to the various mobile tech I reviewed in 2018.

Best overall smartphone

I recently updated my 10 best smartphones post after all major announcements for the end of 2018 were completed. One phone kept popping back up to the top so I’m giving my best overall smartphone award to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. For business users it offers one of the biggest and best smartphone displays on the market, it has the S Pen for enhanced productivity, can be extended as a desktop thanks to DeX, has a microSD card slot for unlimited storage capacity, and more.

Best smartphone value

OnePlus has been releasing smartphones via direct sales for a few years, but was successful in securing a US wireless carrier deal in 2018. The OnePlus 6T is an excellent smartphone and the low price, compared to other flagships, makes it even more compelling. The cellular reception has been better than other phones, the battery lasts a long time, it is one of the most responsive Android phones, and it is gorgeous in Thunder Purple.

Best Android smartphone

While this might also go to the Note 9, I’m going to give this honor to the Google Pixel 3 XL. This new phone from Google packs it all in and the camera, with magical Night Sight capability, is the one to get to make sure you always have the latest and greatest version of Android on your phone.

Best iOS smartphone

You might think I would have chosen the most expensive new iPhone, but I sent my iPhone XS Max back to Apple after two weeks and wasn’t as impressed as I should have been. The real star of the Apple 2018 iPhone lineup is the iPhone XR with the lowest starting price (by $250 and $350 for the XS and XS Max, respectively), longest battery life, same processor, same rear camera, and availability in six fun colors.

Best camera on a phone

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro might be a contender for this one, but given the consistent results I picking the Google Pixel 3/3 XL for this one again. These two phones have a single rear camera, but what Google has been able to do with software through Night Sight, portrait, and other shots is stunning.

Best battery life

Huawei is known for leading the charge with massive capacity batteries in its phones. It has had 4,000 mAh for a couple of years and as others have reached this level, Huawei went ahead and put in a 4,200 mAh variant in the Mate 20 Pro to raise the bar once again. This phone will last most people a couple of days and even heavy users will get through at least one full, long day.

Best audio experience

LG’s five cameras may not have earned it the best camera phone award, but you can’t argue it excels in audio performance. With a 3.5mm headphone jack, Hi-Fi Quad DAC, DTS:X 3D surround sound, and loud Boombox speaker, it is pretty clear the LG V40 ThinQ leads the way.

Best tablet

For apps and consuming media, it is tough to beat the new Apple iPad Pro. However, if you want a solid tablet that has a full desktop browser, the Pixel Slate is very compelling. The iPad Pro gets the nod this year as Google continues to work out a few bugs, but don’t be surprised if Google takes the crown in 2019.


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Best smartwatch

Apple released the Apple Watch Series 4 this year and if you are an iPhone user then it is probably your best option for a smartwatch. However, for the other 75 percent of you who own an Android phone and maybe even some of you with an iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is the best available today. It offers outstanding hardware, two different sizes, 2-3 day battery life, Spotify music integration, advanced sleep and fitness tracking, GPS, and more.

Best daily activity tracker

Research indicates 42 percent of adults looking for a wearable are still interested in devices other than a smartwatch. The Fitbit Charge 3 is the best Fitbit band ever and offers all that you could want in a tracker band with long battery life, advanced sleep and heart rate tracking, an expansive Fitbit ecosystem and community, and smartphone notifications. Android smartphone users also can use it for quick replies.

Best GPS sports watch

A couple of years ago, I spent some bucks on the Garmin Fenix 3 HR, but after testing the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus I was sold on the integrated music, advanced sleep tracking, extensive workout customization options, and more. I purchased the Fenix 5 Plus because I didn’t need the extra Pulse Ox sensor functionality and saved myself some money. The Fenix 5 Plus series is outstanding and I haven’t found a single thing missing from this watch.

We have already seen rumors of upcoming Samsung foldable phones and the new Galaxy S10 so I’m sure 2019 will start off with a bang at CES and MWC in the first couple of months.

Which were your favorite mobile devices of 2018?


Affiliate disclosure: ZDNet earns commission from the products and services featured on this page.

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December 7, 2018 brianradio2016

Project manager and IT director interview this contract programmer, and based on the contract shop’s recommendation and a brief technical interview she’s hired, reports a pilot fish on the scene.

“She interviewed well, but unfortunately that’s where her skills largely ended,” fish says.

“Basic skills required for this job were C, SQL and Oracle’s PL/SQL and Pro*C — that’s like C with embedded SQL. After struggling for a few days on her first assignment, she asked me, ‘How do you open a file in C?'”

Fish hands her his copy of The C Programming Language and tells her to look up the fopen() function.

But he’s a little troubled by the question. After all, he thinks, any C programmer with more than a couple hours’ experience should know how to open and close files, right?

After a few more days of struggle, the contractor approaches another female programmer — one who’s extremely competent — and asks her to write the program for her, since they’re both women programmers.